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Diesel trains are a constant sight in Esperance, with up to 22 services weekly. But their emissions are not directly monitored or regulated by any arm of government.
The locomotive is visibly releasing diesel emissions and the former heavy industry electrician is concerned that may be putting his community at risk.
Diesel emissions are carcinogenic and studies into them at higher concentrations in the workplace have found links to cardiac and respiratory-related diseases, allergies, neuro-physiological problems and cancer.
But up to 22 times a week diesel trains make their way from Western Australia's resource-rich Goldfields through Esperance's residential areas and past sports fields to the town's port.
"I've seen kids walking to school in the morning, walking through the exhaust emissions and coughing and covering their faces," Mr Price said.
Questions surrounding public health may be particularly poignant in the south coast town after a lead poisoning disaster impacted children and killed thousands of birds in 2006.
There is also a higher incidence rate of some cancers in Esperance, compared to the regional WA average, according to 2011-2015 figures.
But residents like Mr Price have no way of discerning the potential health impacts of diesel emissions from trains because Australia does not regulate or monitor them at all.
According to a federal Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment spokesperson there is no national standard or regulation to limit diesel emissions from non-road diesel engines or in open air environments.
Lin Fritschi, a professor of epidemiology at Curtin University, said Australia was not up to speed when it came to monitoring and regulating this type of pollution.
"Australia is miles behind comparable economies when it comes to controlling emissions from all engines," she said.
"But we don't have any regulations at all for non-road diesel engines."
Diesel emissions from trains are not regulated in Australia.(ABC Esperance: Emily Smith
)Rail excluded from emissions evaluationWhile the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment is undertaking an evaluation of non-road diesel engine emissions – including a review of possible regulatory options – it has opted not to examine rail and shipping.
"Managing emissions from locomotives is more complex than applying standards to other non-road diesel engines," a spokeperson said.
"For example, locomotive engines tend to have a long service life and there is evidence that retrofitting equipment to reduce emissions may be a more successful approach for this sector.
"This is not an option for other smaller engines being considered under the current evaluation."
Not only are the diesel emissions not regulated, they are also not specifically monitored.
While most polluting facilities are required to self-report their emissions to the National Pollution Inventory, trains are exempt.
"Trains are not defined as a facility, rather they are modelled as a diffuse emissions source by state and territory environment agencies," a department spokeperson said.
"The NPI does not have any diffuse emissions data covering the Esperance region for trains.
"Questions about emissions in Esperance should be directed to the WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation."
Diesel emissions have been linked to disease and cancer.(ABC Esperance: Emily Smith
)The WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation told the ABC that although ambient air monitoring occurred around the port, it "did not conduct any specific monitoring for diesel emissions in Esperance".
The WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety said it did "not have a role in regulating or monitoring emissions in an environmental setting".
In the ambient air, diesel particles are monitored as part of the overall mix of airborne particles and would be assessed through air quality standards for particle pollution.
Dr Fritschi pointed out that diesel emissions were particularly difficult to monitor because they were made up of different combinations of materials.
"It also makes them harder to control, because you might say, 'elemental carbon in the exhaust is the problem' — so you might use a particular type of filter that reduces elemental carbon, [but] you might increase the risk of gaseous components," she said.
"So it's quite difficult to measure and control — but it doesn't mean we shouldn't do it."
But what is the health risk?Peter Franklin, an environmental and occupational health researcher from the University of WA, said there was no direct data on the carcinogenic effects of diesel at environmental levels.
He said the risks were dependent on concentrations and exposure.
"For most of us, concentrations have to be quite high before we experience any health problems," he said.
"But exposure to low concentrations over a long time, a lifetime, has been estimated to lead to a small increased risk of lung cancer."
Alison Reid, an associate professor in occupational epidemiology at Curtin University said studies had indicated diesel emissions could also pose a risk in an open air environment.
"There's certainly some evidence that it hangs around and that it's a problem not just in a confined and contained area," she said.
Dr Reid said people should not assume the lack of regulation and monitoring of diesel train emissions indicated they did not pose a risk.
"Just because it's not being monitored doesn't mean it's not a problem," she said.
"We always need to go with the precautionary principle — don't assume that everything is safe.
"Let's get more evidence about it and let's find out what's going on."
David Price thinks diesel emissions from trains should be monitored and regulated.(ABC Esperance: Emily Smith
)Operator highlights voluntary codeAurizon, which operates the majority of diesel trains that pass through Esperance, said it was taking steps to reduce their emissions.
In 2018, it played a leading role in developing the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board's Code of Practice for the Management of Locomotive Exhaust Emissions — an "industry-led initiative to improve air quality outcomes with reference to international standards".
According to the voluntary code, new locomotives acquired after December 1 2018 were to meet an emissions standard.
Action was to be taken to reduce emissions from locomotives if they breached a certain threshold and each freight rail operator was to submit an annual report on its progress.
While the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety does not regulate the servicing of train engines, an Aurizon spokesperson said "locomotives that operate on this corridor are maintained regularly and in accordance to the manufacturer's requirements".
But Mr Price said the train operators should not be the only ones keeping an eye on their emissions.
"These exhaust emissions need to be monitored, that's my concern," he said.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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